Mr. Bittman discusses a 9-year Iowa State study of organic agriculture in Sunday's Times (I'm just getting caught up with my reading).
From the abstract: we conducted a field study from 2003–2011 in Iowa that included three
contrasting systems varying in length of crop sequence and inputs. We
compared a conventionally managed 2-yr rotation (maize-soybean) that
received fertilizers and herbicides at rates comparable to those used on
nearby farms with two more diverse cropping systems: a 3-yr rotation
(maize-soybean-small grain + red clover) and a 4-yr rotation
(maize-soybean-small grain + alfalfa-alfalfa) managed with lower
synthetic N fertilizer and herbicide inputs and periodic applications of
cattle manure. Grain yields, mass of harvested products, and profit in
the more diverse systems were similar to, or greater than, those in the
conventional system, despite reductions of agrichemical inputs. Weeds
were suppressed effectively in all systems, but freshwater toxicity of
the more diverse systems was two orders of magnitude lower than in the
conventional system. Results of our study indicate that more diverse
cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agrichemical inputs
as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agroecosystem
performance, while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse
So it wasn't "organic"in the pure sense. And that raises a question: currently "organic" food gets a significant price premium. Is it possible for "nearly organic" food to get a price premium? (A quick skim of the report says they didn't assume higher prices for outputs of the alternative systems.) Is it possible to rally public support for farm programs helping "nearly organic" farmers?
I renew my question from previous such studies: where is the market for the increased production of alfalfa?